By Bill Helwig
TDCAA Board President & Criminal District Attorney in Yoakum County
When I raised my hand and took the oath of office as the new County Attorney in Coke County in 1980, I had no idea nor understanding that I was about to become a member of something great—I call it “the network.”
The network is all of us within the realm and breadth of the world of prosecution, each of us doing our jobs and functioning as the circumstances require. Our network consists of administrative and legal assistants, victim assistance coordinators, investigators, and all forms of assistant and elected prosecutors. Each one of us is a cog in the gears of prosecution. By necessity and opportunity, we interact with each other, regardless of place or position. We communicate and interact for a common purpose, and we are committed to our colleagues in the network regardless of the city, county, state, or even nation.
As that young Coke County Attorney, I was the only prosecutor in the county. I was also the only attorney. However, within a couple weeks, I had received a few “welcome” calls from several adjoining and regional prosecutors. Each was pleasant and cordial, inviting me to call if I had any questions. It was at that point that I learned the power and usefulness of our network in prosecution.
Even before the calls from neighboring prosecutors, I inadvertently found that the network existed in my county even though there were no other prosecutors. As I tried to learn the trade and understand the nuances of prosecution, the two county attorneys who had served before me were my first introduction to the network. I had their files in my office, and I sat atop a gold mine of their work and the work of local defense lawyers.
In those early days, the network functioned through phone, mail, and eyeball-to-eyeball communications, which was both effective and personal. Now, we communicate by text, email, Zoom, cell phone, office phone, and fax—probably in that order. Technology has made the network incredibly efficient, highly expeditious, and terribly functional. It is also highly impersonal. Over my 26 years in prosecution, I have used all these modes of communication to reach out to the network within our state, the country, and, on a couple of occasions, Canada and Mexico. If I have used all these tools from rural Yoakum County, I know each of you have had many, many similar experiences and utilizations. We face similar battles, whether with defendants, defense attorneys, judges, or cases. Collectively, our united group of prosecutors and office colleagues face these challenges. As a group, that is our mission, and the network enables us to take these experiences and, utilizing the technology referenced earlier, communicate to one and all.
In the upcoming year, I encourage you to continue and increase your activity and involvement as a member of the network. This means contacting, calling, and even making a personal visit to a colleague—just dropping by the office to shake hands, say hello, and engage in some war stories. When you hear about the success of a colleague, take a minute to email, text, or otherwise extend a collegial note. The network needs to be cultivated and nourished with interaction and involvement. Regardless of age, rank, or position, remember how you felt encouraged and uplifted by someone taking note and making a positive comment.
In addition to the “work” portion of the network, our biennial event, the legislative session, mandates a strong and efficient network. From the professional staff at TDCAA to all the elected prosecutors, as well as those assistants who specialize in legislative matters, our ability to communicate and interact through the network is essential for our interests to be represented during the session. If you have the time to “work the legislature,” contact TDCAA to speak to Shannon Edmonds to learn how you can be most effective.
In the upcoming year, we will attempt to host regional meetings for in-person interactions and strengthening the network. This initiative comes from TDCAA’s Long-Range Planning Committee. You can support this action by attending, participating, and being involved. The Board’s regional directors will be the point people, so try to know the director in your region and interact with him or her. (A list of regional directors is on page 3 of this journal.) It is hoped that when these meetings occur, offices can participate fully and that such gatherings will be a continuing endeavor.
Forty-two years ago, when I took the oath of office for the first time, I was not aware of the existence of TDCAA. Now, I am privileged and humbled to begin 2023 as the Board President of this fine and distinguished organization. I welcome all comments and contributions from you, one and all. Call, email, text, or even come by for a good ol’ face-to-face exchange of a few war stories. That’s one of the many things we do if we are in the network.